Autumn ~ Stanza 24

days spent keeping house and raising her large brood
nine of them in all, ‘twas young Hannah’s lot in life
married at eighteen, known as Cotton Tower’s wife
the year was 1816 when summer went on strike
their farm likely covered midsummer with snow and ice


For Jane Dougherty’s August Stanza Challenge.

History recounts the year 1816 as “The Year Of No Summer”. It was also the year my 5th Great Grandparents, Hannah Edson and Cotton Tower married. Cotton was a Farmer by trade. Hannah, who I am fortunate to have a photograph of, is listed on census records as a housewife. With 9 children I can’t imagine she had much time for anything else besides birthing and tending to her children. They all seem to have been of hearty stock though. Hannah died at the ripe old age of 74, with Cotton following her nearly a decade later at 85. They lived in Leavenworth, Indiana. I imagine the farms in that part of the country felt the chill, along with the rest of the world, caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. It is said that the atmosphere was thick with volcanic ash, limiting the amount of sunlight, cooling the Earth’s surface, and causing a once-in-a-lifetime event: a year-long winter.

Here is an excerpt I found from The Washington Times Herald :

A year without a summer

Although no documented local records of weather existed in 1816, the summer of 1816 is without question a memorable year, not only locally, but world wide. The year of 1816 is referred to as “the year without a summer.”

In 1961, Frank L. Hartle of Indianapolis was in possession of an 1816 newspaper article describing 1816 as being the coldest summer ever experienced by any person living at that time.

The following are excerpts from the article:

“June was described as the coldest month vegetation had ever experienced in this latitude. Frost and ice was as common as buttercups usually are in June.”

“Mothers made thick mittens for their children and they wore knitted sox of double thickness. Overcoats and gloves were required by farmers as they attempted to do their daily chores.”

“A heavy snowfall on June 17, 1816, was accompanied by a pathetic story. A Vermont farmer turned his sheep to pasture the previous day. Temperatures dropped below freezing over night and snow had begun falling about 9 a.m.”

As the farmer left home, he jokingly remarked to his wife: “Better start the neighbors searching soon for me.”

“It’s the middle of June you know and I may get lost in the snow.” Snow continued to fall in torrents and drifts began to form. By night fall nothing had been heard from him. The wife summoned neighbors and they began to search for him. They continued searching the second day. Only after the third day, was he found lying in a hollow, half-covered with snow, still alive but both feet frozen. The sheep were found nearby, but most of the flock of sheep had lost their lives.

July offered no respite. Ice thicker than window glass required breaking the ice in the livestock water troughs so they could drink.

But to everyone’s surprise August proved worst of all.

“Almost every green thing in the country and Europe was blasted daily by frost. Snow fell in August in London, England. In Quebec City, Canada, on June 10, 1816, they experienced a 12-inch snowfall and 1816 was the coldest year in the northern hemisphere on record.

As a result of these abnormal summer temperatures, parts of Europe experienced a stormier winter in 1816. That, in turn, resulted in the widespread death of much of the livestock.

Cool temperatures and heavy rains resulted in failed harvests in Great Britain and Ireland. Families in Wales traveled long distances as refugees begging for food. Famine was prevalent in North and South West Ireland following the failure of their wheat, oats and potato harvests. Violent demonstrations in front of grain markets and bakeries, followed by riots, arson and looting in many European cities due to food shortages and skyrocketing food prices.

Worldwide, no living person at that time had any recollection of weather creating such havoc throughout history. While it was known that other countries were also experiencing similar weather problems, the actual cause wasn’t known until years later.

A cause is found

Virtually no one in Daviess County, Ind., had ever heard of Indonesia or the small island of Sumatra nor had they any knowledge of Mount Tambora nor would they ever have believed that a volcano half way around the world could have any effect on their lives, especially their weather.

If asked, at the time, if they knew that there was a volcano eruption on Mount Tambora in Indonesia; their answer would probably be, “So who cares?” The science of climate and the factors which contribute to temperatures, the seasons, the air currents and ocean tides were not a part of common knowledge. In fact, if someone were to have suggested that a volcano was to be blamed, even the highly educated in 1816 would label us as a “fruitcake.”

To believe the cause of 12-inch snowfalls in June or world widespread crop failures were a direct result of a volcano in Indonesia would have been truly unbelievable.

Although there are several volcanoes today capable of eruption, the April 1815 Mount Tambora eruption was the largest volcanic eruption in recorded history. The explosion was deafening and was heard on the island of Sumatra more than 1,200 miles away. The estimated death toll exceeded 71,000 people. A team of archaeologists during excavation diggings in 2004 discovered cultural remains buried from the Mount Tambora volcanic explosion still intact beneath 9.9 foot deep pyroclastic lava deposits. Many of the bodies were preserved in the positions they occupied on that fateful day in 1815.

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